Has Nullsec attained an equilibrium?


Interrogate any number of players involved in null-sec sovereignty warfare and a significant percentage will declare that EVE is stagnating. Granted, this is not everyone's opinion: some consider this to be another of EVE's periodic "boring" periods. While history would support that idea, proponents are operating under the assumption that the "state of null" is similar to what it was previously. Yet some subtle differences are apparent: never have null sec coalitions been so large, never have players been so rich, and never have players cared so little about system control. The current SOLAR front is crumbling despite supposedly being the next great conflict, and nothing but more grinding awaits players on both sides of the war.

If one observes the four most prominent nullsec entities (CFC, HBC, N3, Russian/SOLAR bloc), just as in previous years, most of them represent different player identities and mindsets. While one of the four coalitions is relatively new, the three others (especially the CFC and Russians) extend back a number of years. Blocs with similar identities (though with much smaller player numbers) have existed for most of EVE's lifetime. The subtle difference with previous years is that these blocs have all had the time to test each other (bar the CFC and HBC, but more on that later).


One of the great aspects of evolutionary theory is that it can be applied to all kinds of systems, not just biological ones (the fields of memetics and entymology, for example). In a way, EVE is an ecosystem with a given number of inhabitants and rules that affect whether the inhabitants survive and grow. For all intents and purposes, the four coalitions within the system are the four individuals surviving in an environment where there is a given amount of finite resources - moons, sov, whatever. 

Contrary to popular belief, evolutionary progression is sudden: there is little evidence for progressive changes through time, but rather sudden, quick (in geological terms) shifts brought on by environmental changes. In layman's terms, stability between different entities is a consequence of a lack of change in the environment. This is called 'punctuated equilibriums', periods of stability followed with periods of rapid change. It's quite applicable to things like global politics: the last 30 odd years have been 'stable' with the dominant presence of the US, and there is an important politico-economic shift to the growing strength of Asian nations due to changes in the economic environment. 

How is this applicable to EVE? Every expansion or patch from CCP has served to constantly change the gaming environment in EVE. As a result, null security space has been in a state of constant change, never finding an equilibrium, until recently. When were the last significant  disturbances to the 0.0 environment? The tech 'nerf' and changes to supers come to mind in recent memory, but neither had a significant impact on the gaming environment (both tech and supers remain hugely valuable assets, if not the most valuable ones). Time dilation fills this role as well, benefiting all nullsec blocs equally. In the last few years, 0.0 has had a chance to stablize.

A pecking order has been established and no amount of player interaction will likely change that. The dark 'smoke-filled rooms' of high politicking ensure that such an order will remain. What makes EVE stand out from other games is its persistent universe: very few games can claim to have a multiplayer environment that lasts for more than a few years, never mind a decade. While in many ways this plays to EVE's strengths, it also means that problems that would not have time to formulate in other MMOs do start appearing over time.

Null sec, after years of changes, has finally reached a punctuated equilibrium. The boredom seen in much of 0.0 space is just a symptom of this greater problem. This is why CCP needs to have a drastic and immediate look into how sovereignty functions and disturb the gaming environment. The tech nerf could have done such a thing, but it was so diluted that there was little impact (aside from those with the most tech making even more ISK). Unlike in the natural world, equilibriums in EVE are bad because they equate to lost subscriptions. In a way, this effectively makes 0.0 (and any other EVE component) effectively un-fixable in this regard: regardless of how good a fix CCP deploys for sovereignty, eventually the system will stabilise itself. Not only does CCP need to fix the current (flawed) mechanics, they need to continue changing the null sec environment perpetually to create instabilities.

For example, what would have been likely to happen if technetium had been properly nerfed? There would have been a sudden spat of wars to obtain the new moons of relevance, certainly, but after that? Coalitions would finish in the same state as they are now, looking for someone to fight but knowing there was no one worthy (either no one strong enough to win, or no one weak enough to lose).


Given the need to destabilise the systems constantly, at first glance CCP's new development strategy involving progressive iterations throughout many areas would seem beneficial. However, given the scope of the work they are putting themselves up for, it likely means that the progress/changes in each area will be significantly lowered due to limited resources. Another aspect of ecosystems that hasn't been discussed is increased stability with complexity. Obviously, the EVE environment is relatively complex, and consequently non-significant disturbances are unlikely to upset the system. CCP's new strategy would effectively mean that they would try to wake up a drunk with a drop of water rather than a bucket. The former may have a bit of an effect, perhaps creating a war or two, but the latter is more likely to create a torrent of wars. 

There are ways to include 'natural' disturbances into the game without requiring constant interventions from CCP. Many advocated moons with limited resources as a solution to the tech problem, and while this is a flawed fix for the tech problem, it would certainly create instability. If, say, incursions into 0.0 had an effect on sov, and that the location of those incursions was random, it would create 'natural' instabilities in the same way a hurricane of fire would affect an ecosystem. There are plenty of other ways to create such instabilities that become obvious, and it is likely that such things would create conflicts in some form. 


N.B. I realise that many will perhaps consider this article ill-advised given the current tensions between the CFC and the HBC. However, I do believe that a dominant coalition between the two exists and is known to the two entities. I also believe that given the current game mechanics no actual war would start aside from looking for some fun and some goodfights (i.e. no SOV-taking). There is also the very pertinent issue of numbers: both coalitions can field a number of complete fleets at one time, and both fighting each other would become nigh-on unplayable and would defeat the purpose of looking for fun.

Member of Nulli Secunda. Have been playing Eve for close to four years, already hit by bittervet syndrome. I've played a number of games over the years and generally dab in every game that's fun.